5 Hopes For Welsh Education in 2015 Revisited

17 Dec

In January I wrote a blog looking at my 5 hopes for Welsh education in 2015.  The original post can be seen here.  I thought coming to the end of the year it would be worth reviewing them to see what, if any, progress had been made.

1.  Schools Challenge Cymru:

My original post had a lot of hope for this project, and indeed I still do.  I have heard excellent things about the London Challenge from teachers who engaged in that process and I really had/have high hopes that we can replicate similar results in Wales.  One thing I did warn of at the start of the year was that this could not be seen a s a quick fix.  That remains the case.

In October Plaid Cymru produced figures that showed the uplift in performance for schools involved in the challenge Cymru scheme was only 0.3% greater than those not in the mix.  There is a number of ways to look at this.  You can, as Plaid Cymru have, suggest that the scheme has not worked.  It is a relatively fair conclusions and where public money is spent it is naturally correct to hold results under a spotlight.  Certainly the way the initiative has been talked up by the Welsh Government you would perhaps have expected even more dramatic results.  It could very well, on reflection, be a case of the Welsh Government overestimating the initiation impact making it extremely difficult to reach expectations.

Personally I have two other angles in which I view these result.  firstly, the schools involved in Schools Challenge Cymru were identified as being those that would benefit most from, and who were most in need of, support.  With that in mind you can assume that their ability to show progress was from a lower base.  It is therefore perhaps not unfair to suggest that even matching the attainment uplift of other schools shows that the scheme is working.  Bypassing them should, in effect, be a point of celebration.  The other point is that this is the first year.  It takes time to get new initiatives right, and if there is one thing the Welsh Government should have learnt in recent years it is that getting the implementation a new policy right has to be a key concern.

The other point I made back in January was that this had to have long-term funding.  We have the £20m figure for the coming years, although the identification of the exact monies from within the education department still appears to be somewhat clouded in mystery.  However, there is no guarantee to ensure this policy lasts into future years beyond what has thus far been outlined.  We are playing a year by year game.  Still, it was very welcome news to see the Education Minister recently tweet he is committing to it for a third year at the minimum.

The jury may still be out on the effectiveness of the programme but overall I think we can put Schools Challenge Cymru down as a positive for the year.  The big test will perhaps come when we analyse the date for the coming 12 months.

2.  Support for supply teachers:

I started 2015 noting how the Children and Young People’s Committee were embarking on an inquiry into supply teaching.  The delays in publishing the final report have been frustrating to say the least.  That being said what finally did come out was very encouraging.

Sadly the reality is that little is going to be done until the Welsh Government’s preferred supplier contract with New Directions comes to an end.  As things stand schools and local authorities pretty much have their hands tied in terms of an ability to operate outside the stranglehold of this contract.  Yes they have the option of providing supply through other avenues but the truth is the pressures on them through the caveats that go with doing that makes it virtually impossible.

I think the committee’s report could have been stronger.  It appears somewhat watered down in places to me.  Perhaps that was in order to ensure that it secured universally support from members.  That said there are some very important messages around the ineffectiveness of essentially establishing a monopoly, which has all but happened through the current preferred provider contract.

The below statement in the report is of particular interest in this regards:

“The Committee is concerned that the current model for supply teaching does not appear to be working effectively. The Committee believes that consideration should be given to reforming the way in which supply teachers are employed, including the possible use of cluster arrangements or employment through a national body as just two examples. In doing so, the Welsh Government should give careful consideration to national models elsewhere, such as Northern Ireland.

“The Committee acknowledges that the existing contract will need to be honoured and as such any new system could not become live until at least August 2018. However, the Welsh Government should start work now to design a new model for the employment of supply teaching, to ensure that the new system is in place in readiness for the end of the current contract.”

That the committee have made the recommendations they have will hopefully put the sector and the Welsh Government on alert going into the next year or so.  Something has to be done about this issue if we are to see a real ability to ensure consistency of standards across contracted and supply teachers.  At least we have potentially made a start on that process.

3.  Funding:

It would be foolish to suggest that our funding picture has been made any better in 2015.  In fact the amount of money schools receive per pupil fell in 2015 for the first time in a decade.  Schools across Wales are looking at teacher redundancies as a way of balancing their budgets.  That will lead to a rise in workload, higher class sizes and even less quality teaching time spent individual with pupils.  None of this is good news for pupils in Wales.

We have to accept that the Welsh Government did receive a very difficult settlement from Westminster.  In many senses the budget they announced in December is an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.  We can also be somewhat pleased that within the education budget there was some additional funding for the curriculum, teaching and leadership.  Three key areas in critical need for investment as we seek to develop and implement the new curriculum and new approaches to continued professional development.  That being said I doubt anyone is particularly celebrating where we are at.  2015 has proved a dispiriting year for education finances and the future at present looks more difficult still.

4.  The New Deal:

Looking back over the year I have to say that I had expected more meat on the bone for the New Deal.  What the Minister announced sounded very positive but we were not given any real clear guidance on how that professional development was going to take place, what funding was going to be attached to it and how schools and teachers were going to secure it.  The best part of 12 months later and I am not sure we can say with any certainty that things at all that much further along.  I would have hoped that the New Deal would have developed as a concept into something more tangible a lot sooner.  In that regards 2015 is a bit of a disappointment for the policy.

That being said it is at least not a soundbite that has been forgotten as has often been the case with teachers professional development in the past.  We have seen the establishment of pioneer schools who are tasked with looking at the development of the New Deal.  I very much like the concept of the profession, through these pioneer schools, taking this forward organically and hopefully it can lead to a more clearly defined picture in 2016.  What is also really positive is that in conjunction to much of the workload campaigning that NUT Cymru did in 2015 those pioneer schools, and others looking at the curriculum, are also factoring in the impact on workload in doing this review.  That may just mean that what we end up with is something that helps teachers in more than one way.

5. Education isn’t 2015’s NHS:

I had a terrible fear at the start of the year that education would be used during the Westminster election as a way of kicking the Welsh Government and being sensationalist.  Thankfully it wasn’t.  In fact, education on a UK or Welsh level hardly featured at all.  As we approach the Assembly election, a much more appropriate arena for discussing education delivery, I expect that focus to come sharply into play.  Thus far, having heard some policies put forward by opposition parties I am feeling positive that what we will get is a battle of ideas.  You may agree or not agree with what each party is putting forward but they will be aiming to win votes on education based on the merits of what they want to implement not simply on ripping up everything that is currently being done.

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